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Egypt - Politics

President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, a former general who led the military overthrow of his elected but divisive Islamist predecessor in 2013, waged an unprecedented crackdown on dissent. Thousands have been imprisoned, with some rights advocates putting the number as high as 60,000.

Activists and organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have documented enforced disappearances, widespread torture and a recent arrest campaign targeting people authorities believe are gay. The authorities have blocked hundreds of independent news and critical websites. Critics say el-Sissi is a dictator who cannot stand any form of opposition or real criticism. He jails journalists for doing their jobs, youth for expressing their opinions, writers for writing fiction that violates 'public morality,' gays for coming out, supporters of LGBTQ for daring to support diversity, and he has blocked more than 400 different websites and media platforms.

El-Sissi denies that Egypt tortures or has any political prisoners, and maintains that human rights are only one among several pressing issues his government is addressing, such as improving the economy and providing stability.

There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings while making arrests or holding persons in custody. There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during disputes with civilians. There were a few reports of such killings while the government or its agents dispersed demonstrations. There were reports of suspects killed in unclear circumstances during or after arrest. There were reports of police killing unarmed civilians during personal or business disputes, which local academics and human rights groups claimed were part of a culture of excessive violence within security services.

Several international and local human rights groups, including the quasi-governmental National Council on Human Rights (NCHR), reported a spike in enforced disappearances, alleging authorities increasingly relied on this tactic to intimidate critics. According to a July 2016 Amnesty International [AI] report, authorities had forcibly disappeared at least several hundred individuals since the beginning of 2015. In all of the cases AI presented, authorities arrested those forcibly disappeared in a manner that did not comply with due process laws.

Local rights organizations documented hundreds of incidents of torture throughout the year 2016, including deaths that resulted from torture. According to domestic and international human rights organizations, police and prison guards sometimes resorted to torture to extract information from detainees, including minors. Reported techniques included beatings with fists, whips, rifle butts, and other objects; prolonged suspension by the limbs from a ceiling or door; electric shocks; sexual assault; attacks by dogs; and forced standing for hours. Government officials denied the use of torture was systemic. Authorities stated they did not sanction these abuses and, in some cases, prosecuted individual police officers for violating the law.

There were reports of political prisoners and detainees, although verifiable estimates were not available. The government claimed there were no political prisoners and all persons in detention had been or were in the process of being, charged with a crime. Human rights groups and international observers maintained the government detained or imprisoned as many as several thousand persons solely or chiefly because of their political beliefs or opposition to the government. One local rights organization estimated there were 60,000 political prisoners. A local rights group considered any persons arrested under the 2013 demonstrations law to be political prisoners. In their view these persons were political prisoners or detainees because authorities held them based on laws that restricted the exercise of a human right, because charges were false or inflated motivated by the individual’s political opinion or membership in a particular group, or because some individuals faced unduly harsh and disproportionate treatment due to their political opinions or membership in particular groups.

According to its constitution, Egypt is a republic governed by an elected president and unicameral legislature. Domestic and international observers concluded the presidential election that took place in 2014 was administered professionally and in line with the country’s laws, while also expressing serious concerns that government limitations on association, assembly, and expression constrained broad political participation. Domestic and international observers also concluded that government authorities professionally administered the parliamentary elections that took place October through December 2015 in accordance with the country’s laws, while also expressing concern about restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly, association, and expression and their negative effect on the political climate surrounding the elections.

In January 2017 the Washington-based, USAID-funded research group Freedom House released its annual “Freedom in the World” report: "Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who seized power in a 2013 coup, has been praised by some democratic politicians—especially those on the right—for toppling an unpopular Islamist incumbent and ruthlessly cracking down on both the former president’s peaceful supporters and an armed insurgency led by the Islamic State militant group. Sisi is held up as a promising partner in the fight against Islamist terrorism.

"A closer look at his performance reveals not just a feckless and thuggish security apparatus that has failed to quell the insurgency, but also a pattern of corruption and economic mismanagement that is bringing Egypt to its knees. The ongoing violence and political repression have crippled the vital tourism industry. Billions of dollars in aid from the Persian Gulf monarchies have been wasted, partly on megaprojects of dubious value that enrich regime cronies. And in 2016 the government began implementing austerity measures in exchange for an emergency bailout from the International Monetary Fund, driving up prices for food staples and angering an already desperate population."

The most significant human rights problems were excessive use of force by security forces, deficiencies in due process, and the suppression of civil liberties. Excessive use of force included unlawful killings and torture. Due process problems included the excessive use of preventative custody and pretrial detention, the use of military courts to try civilians, trials involving hundreds of defendants in which authorities did not present evidence on an individual basis, and arrests conducted without warrants or judicial orders. Civil liberties problems included societal and government restrictions on freedoms of expression and the media, as well as on the freedoms of assembly and association in statute and practice.

Other human rights problems included disappearances; harsh prison conditions; arbitrary arrests; a judiciary that in some cases appeared to arrive at outcomes not supported by publicly available evidence or that appeared to reflect political motivations; reports of political prisoners and detainees; restrictions on academic freedom; impunity for security forces; harassment of some civil society organizations; limits on religious freedom; official corruption; and limits on civil society organizations.

The Muslim Brotherhood was overthrown, its leaders jailed or on the run, and the Egyptian military was again ruling the country. Egypt's army ousted democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013 and launched a crackdown on his supporters that left hundreds of people dead. The interim government then imposed a state of emergency and nightly curfew to restore control. At the same time, the military-backed government is moving ahead with a transition plan that envisions elections for a new president and parliament next year. Morsi was being held awaiting trial on charges of inciting murder and violence. Egyptian authorities acted November 13, 2013 to end the three-month state of emergency, a step that may help the army-backed government restore a semblance of normalcy after turmoil ignited by the military overthrow of president Mohamed Morsi.

At some point, a way must be found to reintegrate supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and liberal groups back into the political process. The former are too numerous and influential to isolate or expunge, while the latter was responsible for sparking the 2011 revolution and is the source of innovation and intellectual heft. Both groups are likely to be emboldened by the low turnout for Sissi and to continue protests both inside and outside Egypt that will scare away tourists and potential investors.




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